A New Old Friend

By Elizabeth C. Kincaid

SOC Project Director

For this year’s 25th Annual Concert of Colors, we were graced with the opportunity to host World Roots musician Martha Redbone. Rarely, if ever, have I met a celebrated personality so devoid of ego. Martha was immediately disarming. She entered our community with the grace and humility characteristic of most of my colleagues and community members. After initial introductions with staff and volunteers were made, she quickly pulled out her phone to share family photos, and began describing fond memories from her childhood in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky to “pre-gentrified” Brooklyn, New York.

“It was an inspiring, relevant & moving experience at Community Talking circle with Ms. Redbone. The depth of her wisdom, eloquence & ability to authentically connect is magical.” Eric Wilkins, AIHFS Behavioral Health Therapist

Shortly after 11:00 a.m., Chantel Henry opened our Circle with a smudge. Martha sang a traditional song, accompanied by a rattle. The tone was set for an unexpected, unrehearsed, non-scripted discussion led by Spirit. The topics covered ranged from Multi-racial identity, the infancy of DNA testing companies, Indigenous paternity claims by enslaved women of African descent (to veil the shame of rape by slave masters, which resulted in pregnancy), youth voice, and youth identity. What was most thought provoking and heart-stirring was Ms. Redbone’s charge to youth; don’t allow anyone to project their prescribed identity of you on to you.  Our youth, who were present, were told to use their voices for change, the type of change that, “does not apologize and does not ask permission” to exist, be seen, be heard.  She cleverly admonished those present to be the authors of their “phenotypes” (the physical expression or characteristics of an individual resulting from the interaction of its genotype {a set of genes in our DNA which is responsible for a particular trait}), rather than allowing dominant culture to ascribe it for us. She shared her own trials from her community members telling her, as an example, “You look…, but if you didn’t wear your hair in braids, then you’d look more…” She urged them to use their voices and justifiable anger to fuel a desire to be advocates for themselves. She wanted for them to be Native changers, rather than Native complainers. She spoke to each person within the circle with unwavering personalized connection and authenticity. She brought healing words during our short time together.

Martha Redbone at the Max M. Fisher with AIHFS System of Care Youth Liaisons Sierra Kincaid (L) and Nena Kincaid (R).

Ms. Redbone was once again gracious to remain with us for photos, personal conversations, and warm farewells even though her transportation had been patiently waiting for her outside. Several of us drove over to the Max M. Fisher to hear Martha Redbone’s contribution to this year’s Concert of Colors. The same woman who had just led us in an intimate talking circle, was now singing on Center Stage with a voice that reached notes that gave us chills. Her use of Southern Gospel delivery combined with Appalachian tunes is ingenious. It was reminiscent of the religious symbology that enslaved people of the Americas had used to send messages to each other on the plantations of their owners. Her music is, needless to say, powerfully moving. Ms. Redbone even gave American Indian Health & Family Services a shout-out from the stage. She is truly a delightfully charming, warm, kindred spirit. We still keep in touch, and this is why I call Martha Redbone, my new old friend.

Jessica Care Moore (Left-Poet and Executive Producer and Founder of Black Women Rock), Elizabeth C. Kincaid (Center), and Martha Redbone(Right).

*A special Miigwetch to Nickole Fox, who had pre-prepared a gift bag for our lovely guest.

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